Cumbria Way and High Way
Key information: Cumbria Way and High Way
- A fine and interesting walk, traversing one of the world's most beautiful and best-loved places.
- The informal Cumbria High Way is a superb alternative for the more adventurous walker.
- Either way, you will enjoy some of the best the region's glacially scoured scenery, with gorgeous lakes winding between ancient, wild hills sporting soft woodland, foaming streams and waterfalls on their lower slopes.
- Walkopedia rating92
- Natural interest15
- Human interest10
- Negative points0
- Total rating92
- Length: 76 miles
- up to 6 days
- Maximum Altitude: 2,000ft; 3,000ft(Skiddaw) on the High Way
- Level of Difficulty: Variable
The Cumbria Way is a fine and interesting walk, traversing one of the world’s most beautiful and best-loved places, but/and (depending on your viewpoint) it is said to be the least demanding of the UK’s long-distance routes, following valleys and crossing low passes, “a leisurely walk punctuated by teashops and country inns”, as John Gilham says.
The informal Cumbria High Way, created by John Gilham for Cicerone Guide Books, is a superb alternative for the more adventurous walker, taking in some of the Lakes’ finest landscape. Actually, there are several higher-level alternatives for most days – Walkopedia went delightfully off-piste, creating our own variations to suit our tastes.
Either way, you will enjoy some of the best the region’s glacially scoured scenery, with gorgeous lakes winding between ancient, wild hills sporting soft woodland, foaming streams and waterfalls on their lower slopes.
Both routes run south-north (or vice versa, if you like the sun (and wind) on your face, from Ulverston in the south to Carlisle in the north, in 5 or 6 days – although, if time is short, you can cut out the first and last days, which are in field and foothill, and cross the heart of the Lake District, from Coniston to Caldbeck, in 4 days.
Day 1: Ulverston to Coniston. A long day, in attractive, undulating countryside, with the pleasures of Coniston Water toward the end.
The High Way diverts to Torvers to set you up for day 2.
Day 2: Coniston to Great Langdale. Cross beautiful Lakeland landscape between these gorgeous valleys, through rolling farmland and crossing hillsides to reach the junction of the Landale valleys, then entering the Great Langdale valley by Elter Water, ending up in the ravishing upper valley, in under the Langdale Pikes.
On the High Way, you can take in the marvellous ridge that includes Swirl How (starting with the superb Old Man of Coniston if you feel like a further extension), and either east via Wether Lam or on to make a long descent on the ridge via Great Carrs and Wet Side Edge, to the Little Langdale valley and on over a lower ridge to Great Langdale. Walkopedia dropped steeply to the Wrynose Pass, the climbed to the splendid saddle (with tarn) to the west of Pike of Blisco, then dropped steeply to beautiful Great Langdale.
Day 3: Great Langdale to Rosthwaite in Borrowdale. Head west up the grand, gorgeous Mickleden valley toward the horseshoe of cliffs at its head. Climb to the right to cross Stake Pass to descend the lengthy remoteness of Langstrathdale to reach Rosthwaite/Stonethwaite in Borrowdale. Note: you can head on to Keswick (and the next day on the Caldbeck) if you want to save a day and challenge yourself more.
High Way diversions: to the east via the Langdale Pikes and High Raise, or to the west up the head of Mickleden to Angle Tarn and over Glaramara, from which a ridge declines to Borrowdale. Or, for the really keen, over Bowfell and Esk Pike to the west then either down by Grains Gill to Seathwait or, for a longer day, over Glaramara to Borrowdale.
Day 4: Rosthwaite to Keswick or Skiddaw House, north of Keswick. A gentler but still gorgeous walk down Borrowdale then along the shores of Derwent Water to Keswick and then, if you wish, another couple of hours on to Skiddaw House, a high, remote former shooting lodge, now hostel, in the grand bowl to the east of Skiddaw.
There are various high alternatives: the High Way goes along the hills east of Derwent Water. Walkopedia climbed steeply to the west, to High Spy, then continued north along the ridge to the beautiful, charming Catbells with their extraordinary views over Derwent Water.
Day 5: Keswick or Skiddaw House to Caldbeck. Climb the two hours or so to the Skiddaw House, where the trail divides. Head east down the Caldew valley, then climb to Lingley hut and High Pike, the highest point on the Cumbria Way at 2,000 ft or so. If you have started the day near Keswick, it will be a longer day.
The High Way diverts to climb over Skiddaw. Walkopedia recommends that you take a taxi north to the base of the glorious, sharp Longside Edge ridge which climbs from the north-west via Ullock Pike to the base of the steep final Skiddaw slog. Either way, drop from the summit on the beautiful path via Sale How to Skiddaw House in the grand bowl to the east, to rejoin the Cumbria Way.
Day 6: Caldbeck to Carlisle. Follow the Caldew valley to Carlisle. Attractive and interesting, but you are out of the grand country now.
Walkopedia walked the high alternatives between Coniston and north of Skiddaw in 4 days – although we had to stay on the Cumbria Way between Langdale and Borrowdale as we were hit by horrendous weather.
The Lakes have lots of weather. While there are periods of glorious sunshine, come prepared for cloud and rain. Some of the Lakes’ most beautiful light is on showery, broken cloudy days, so don’t be disheartened by a mixed forecast!
Luggage transport between your accommodation is pretty easy. https://www.sherpavan.com/ will transport your luggage along the Coast to Coast and the Cumbria Way. We left our cars in Keswick and took a taxi south to walk northwards from Coniston; it then left our luggage at our Great Langdale hotel.
The Cumbria Way – Cicerone, John Gilham, covers both routes. As usual, an inspiring book (indeed Walkopedia was alerted to the concept of the High Way by the Cicerone), packed with valuable information, including excellent detail on the route. Recommended. Find relevant books on Amazon.
Have a look at the following for more information and photos: Cumbria Way; Cumbria High Way.
See our Lake District page for further photos and lots of general and practical information, including some accommodation ideas.
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